web analytics
September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



'ANCIENT' AMERICA

Rare Discovery of Mikveh in New England Rewrites US Jewish History

The mikveh barely existed in 19th century American, where Jewish immigrants turned against religion. But one has been found in Connecticut, and it is more similar those in Israel than in the US.
Nicholas Bellantoni, state archeologist, left, Stuart Miller, professor of Hebrew, history and Judaic studies look down into the site of a old US mikveh

Nicholas Bellantoni, state archeologist, left, Stuart Miller, professor of Hebrew, history and Judaic studies look down into the site of a old US mikveh
Photo Credit: Peter Morenus/UConn Photo

Researchers in  Connecticut have unearthed in a old farming community a 19th century mikveh that has totally changed view of Jewish history in the United States.

In addition to the rarity of finding a mikveh in the United States dating back approximately 120  years, the University of Connecticut researchers were astonished to see that the mikveh was more similar those in ancient Israel rather than in America.

“The stone and wood-lined structure from Old Chesterfield may be the only mikveh excavated outside a major North American city and may be the only example of its kind at one of the settlements created by a wealthy philanthropist who in the 1890s established farming communities for Jewish immigrants in New Jersey and Connecticut,” according to the university’s UCONN website.

Approximately 500 people lived in the old rural eastern Connecticut community. Historians have generally assumed that Jewish immigrants shunned tradition as part of their assimilation into the American “melting pot.”

Many immigrants clung to Jewish laws, such as kosher slaughtering, but the observance of ritual bathing was far from common, especially in a rural community.

“The image many people have of those who belonged to the earliest agricultural communities is that they were largely socialists, and that they weren’t particularly religious,” said Prof. Stuart Miller, Academic Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at the university and an expert on ritual baths in ancient Israel. “This is going to enable us to write a chapter of Jewish history which to my knowledge hasn’t been written, one that will deal with the spiritual life of these communities.”

“This mikveh is very exciting because there’s really nothing else like it in the United States,” Miller said. “It’s intact, it’s magnificent, and from a religious law point of view, it’s a marvel.”

It was a routine message from  State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni that brought Miller to the site, where he later realized that mikveh was located there.

Miller was raised in New Jersey but spent several years researching ancient mikvehs in Israel. Colleagues mentioned Miller’s name to Bellantoni, who called him to ask if he would look at an old ritual slaughterhouse that had been found.

“I’ll be honest. I wasn’t really expecting anything,” Miller said. “I was thinking, ‘I write about and work at sites that are 2,000 years old. What am I going to find in Chesterfield?’”

When miller arrived. he noticed the high walls of the slaughtering house and was told that a mikveh might be located at the site, despite rabbis at the time who were bewailing the disappearance of traditional Judaism.

Previous discoveries of mikvehs, one of them dating back to the 1840s in Baltimore, didn’t prepare Miller for what he found in Connecticut because the rural mikveh was made of stone with concrete floors, unlike those found in Baltimore and elsewhere.

“I know what a mikveh is,” Miller said. “And this doesn’t look anything like a modern mikveh. What I’m expecting is a tiled pool. And suddenly I’m seeing concrete. I’m standing there staring at this and thinking, ‘Where am I? Am I in Sepphoris [an archaeological site in Israel]? Is this really Chesterfield, Connecticut?”

Miller knowledge of mikvehs, both in the United States and in Israel., led him to work with his team to excavate a pipe that provided water from a nearby slope.

“They theorize that the settlers fulfilled the religious command to use only water from the heavens or the earth by connecting the mikveh to a brook or pond about 200 yards away and relying on gravity to draw the water into the ritual bath.,” the university website reported.

Further research in archives allowed the researches to get a clearer picture of Jewish life in the farming community 120 years ago. One letter, written in Yiddish around 1915, lamented the demise of a creamery that was going bankrupt.

One surprise concerning Jewish law was that the Connecticut mikveh’s stairs were made of wood, which also lined the walls and in apparent contradiction to laws in the Talmud that forbid the use of wood in building a mikveh. Further research revealed that many Eastern European communities interpreted the law differently.

The researchers plan further excavations to uncover the remains of the old synagogue in Chesterfield, which was partially destroyed by arson in 1972 and completely destroyed eight years later.

About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

3 Responses to “Rare Discovery of Mikveh in New England Rewrites US Jewish History”

  1. Rita Levin says:

    Jews did not turn against religion in America, they turned against religion back in Eastern Europe. In America they were free to show their true feelings, ie they weren't forced to act like observant Jews.

  2. Reb Yid says:

    When society doesn't look down on people who obey the law, you're right, people will stop obeying the law.

  3. is it possible it was built and used by religious Christians, who, like now, try to emulate the Jewish life, keep kosher, Sabbath, etc.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Candy-laden bulletin board greets children on their first day of school in the lobby of an Efrat apartment building. Sept. 1, 2014.
The message reads:
"To our dear children ... may it be a year of fun and happiness in your studies." 
Did You Know September 1 is an Israeli National Holiday?
Latest News Stories
Flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS -- now known simply as the 'Islamic State.'

Germany and other western countries have begun providing weapons to Kurds in fight against the IS.

Arab workers at SodaStream's factory in Maaleh Adumim may be replaced by Bedouin in the company's new plant in the Negev.

BDS will be claim victory, but the truth is that a logistics would be a major factor if SodaStream leaves Maaleh Adumim.

Funeral of Shachar Shalev.

The body of 1st Sgt. Shachar Shalev was laid to rest this afternoon in the cemetery in Hipsin.

Palestinian Authority terrorists wounded a three-year-old girl and a bus driver in two separate rock throwing and firebombing attacks on Monday. Both victims suffered light injuries and were treated on the spot, without need for hospitalization. The girl was riding a bus in northern Jerusalem when the attackers smashed a glass window on the bus. […]

“He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” – Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994.

Palestinian Authority manipulation of the media makes it impossible for peace between PA Arabs and Israelis.

“I know that you spent your vacation doing things not according to what you planned,” the prime minister told students in southern Israel.

The recent war in Gaza is not expected to inflict any lasting damage on economic performance.

A Syrian rebel group attacks dozens of UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights; others are held captive. UNDOF head is challenged.

The price of self-service 95 octane gasoline in Israel dropped by a tiny bit — one agora per liter — at midnight on Sunday.

Residents of Gaza Belt communities were furious and worried on the first day of school to find no one at the guard posts.

Arab terror gangs have again attacked Israeli travelers over the past few hours on main arteries around Jerusalem.

Minister Bennett praised the government in a visit to Gush Etzion for its decision to answer terror with Jewish expansion.

The International Criminal Court at The Hague has no jurisdiction over Gaza or anywhere else in the PA — yet.

More Articles from Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu
The Palestinian Authority has produced a brilliant piece of propaganda to sow more seeds of war.

Palestinian Authority manipulation of the media makes it impossible for peace between PA Arabs and Israelis.

The Great Synagogue in Lyons was targeted for a suicide bombing by two Muslim teenage girls.

The jihad network has snared teenagers in its web. One out of every six Frenchmen supports the ISIS.

What other country would allow legislators to openly declare their allegiance to another entity?

Israel is better off with a weak Hamas rather than a dead Hamas, for the time being, says Netanyahu.

Doctors are hopeful but worried. Her daughter Melissa is an “emotional wreck.”

We wish him a speedy recovery and a lifetime of laryngitis.

We wish a speedy recovery to Joan Rivers, the straight-shooting Jewish comedienne whose exact analysis of the war was, “Hamas started it.”

More than 200,000 Muslims live in Michigan. Fifty of them showed up for a protest against ISIS.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/rare-discovery-of-mikveh-in-new-england-rewrites-us-jewish-history/2013/06/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: